Life can be stressful. Activities, work, family responsibilities, self-care, etc. can all leave us feeling drained. One way to alleviate the stress is by organizing your time, space, and belongings. Bringing order to your life makes handling your various burdens easier. It can also empower you and enhance your sense of having things “under control.” Unfortunately, not everyone gets the urge to organize at the same moment. I often work in settings where one family member strongly desires an improvement, while others in the household are either disinterested or even adversarial. This begs the question, what can you do when you are the only one who wants to get organized?
If you are ready to make a change, and no one around you is willing to cooperate, I have a couple of suggestions.
One of the most important things you can do is to set expectations both for yourself and others. Acknowledge the fact that simply because you are ready to get organized doesn’t mean that those around you are feeling the same way. In fact, others may have more important things on their priority lists. Don’t expect everyone to suddenly be motivated to help you organize, or to even notice or care. Remind yourself up front that you will be working on this project for your own satisfaction, and that even if no one else contributes, it will still be worth your effort.
Communicate in advance.
Anytime you plan to undertake a project in a shared space, it is a good idea to communicate in advance about what you are planning to do. It is helpful to review the family calendar and check to see if there are any upcoming events or commitments that should be kept in mind. For example, the day before a family reunion at your house may not be the ideal time to unload the attic.
A family check-in also lets others know that this is important to you, providing you the opportunity to solicit their suggestions and support. You may not get the reaction you desire, i.e., enthusiasm and buy-in. However, you will have given everyone a chance to speak his/her mind. Additionally, by having a conversation about the state of affairs, you might also learn a bit about what is and/or is not working in the eyes of those with whom you share space.
Focus on your own domain.
In the interest of family harmony, begin organizing in spaces over which you have primary control. For example, rather than starting with your teenager’s room, begin instead with your bathroom or home office. You may want to get your teenager’s room whipped into shape, but he/she may be focused on playing well in the upcoming game, passing a test, getting a driver’s license, catching up on sleep, etc. You can’t expect your priorities to instantly be shared by everyone else. Of course, if you have very small children, you likely will need to declutter and establish systems for their things. As they get older, you can teach them what to do and transfer responsibility to them in an age-appropriate manner.
One of the most powerful ways to influence the behavior of others in your household is by organizing and maintaining your own possessions. Family members will observe that your spaces are ordered, functional, and easy to use. They will see you investing time to keep things organized, and this will make an impression, whether they verbalize their observations or not. Admittedly, they may pile their messes in your tidy spaces, but this can be discussed. The key is to “walk your talk,” not nag others about their spaces while allowing your own to spiral into chaos.
Decide what you will do with other people’s things.
Often, even when working in our own spaces, we come across items that belong to others. Talk about this with family members and ask them how they would like you to handle such items. There are a few options:
- Place them in a pile, bin, or basket for review at a later time.
- Put them in the bedroom of the owner.
- Set some parameters that enable you to make decisions on their behalf. (e.g., if it is schoolwork from last year, you can recycle it).
Avoid accosting family members when they walk in the door with a big pile and asking “What do you want me to do with these?” If review piles are never getting addressed, discuss the issue, and set a mutually agreed upon deadline. Also, never donate or dispose of someone else’s things without their approval. This will likely result in resentment, undermining future organizing projects.
If you find things that belong to someone who does not live in the household, make a plan for how you will proceed. For instance, you might take photos and text them to the owner(s), asking them what they want you to do. Alternatively, you might place a label on an item and put it in your car to drop off next time you are out. You may even need to ship the object if the person lives far away. Resist the temptation to “deal with it later.” Choose a course of action and see it through to completion.
Minimize disruptions to the household.
Few people want to be inconvenienced for someone else’s project. In most cases, organizing a space requires that the scene will get worse before it gets better. This is because you need to pull items out and sort them into categories for review before reloading them into your space. However, if you are working in a shared space, you want to minimize the extent to which your project interferes with the operation of the home.
There are a couple of ways to do this:
- Work in small batches, such as a few drawers or one section of a closet at a time, rather than unloading an entire kitchen or cabinet at once.
- Use a less-trafficked space for your sorting and review, such as an unused guest room or a folding table in the corner of the dining room.
- Clear away donations and trash after each organizing session. Don’t let them accumulate and get in the way of the functioning of the household.
Stay positive (especially around family members).
As with all projects, moments may arise that make you feel tired or discouraged. While this is normal, try not to complain, especially around unsupportive family members. Rather than receive words of encouragement, you are more likely to get comments such as, “Nobody asked you to do this, so why don’t you just quit?” A negative attitude may also undermine the odds of success in future projects.
If you need a cheerleader or some guidance as you work, reach out to others who are not personally impacted by what you are doing, such as a friend or professional organizer.
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Taking steps toward bringing order to your space and time can be a positive, and largely free, technique for decreasing your stress and enhancing your serenity. Even if you must “go it alone,” the process can be very rewarding.
Do you now – or have you, in the past – wanted to get organized in the midst of a “less than enthusiastic” crowd?